The Future is the Same as it Was

(This article originally appeared in the Jon Peddie Research “Visions and Predictions” Whitepaper, released in January 2010)

Perhaps I am becoming more of a curmudgeon, but as I get older I get more selective about who I want to spend time with—whether on-line or in person.

My 12-year old son and his real-life physical friends are diametrically opposite in their perspective—they accept anyone who “friends” them (and when did “friend” become a verb anyhow?) on Xbox Live, World of Warcraft, or whatever other on-line social network they are part of.

I also find that I fight a constant battle against information overload—whether from news services, blogs, Facebook updates, Tweets, or e-mail—to the point that I’ve gotten selective about how much new information I expose myself to, and when. I therefore miss a lot of stuff my family considers highly important, such as a video of an octopus carrying a coconut shell or the trailer for James Cameron’s Avatar. And don’t even get me started on e-mail—although I will say that by installing filters on my mail server I limit my daily intake to what I deem to be high priority e-mail (like from my wife … and Jon Peddie, of course) and the rest of it collects virtual dust until I decide I have nothing better to do—two weeks of low priority e-mail amounts to about eight thousand messages, most of which I file or delete without reading.

However, on-line communications are an addiction too, and I find that for all of my curmudgeonliness, I need to be able to have regular access to Google and my high priority e-mail, regardless of where I am.

With my world travels over the last few years, connectivity has generally not been an issue, and I have even been able to get online from places as remote as Machu Picchu, the Galapagos Islands (while on a boat, no less), Morocco, and Fiji. I expect to put that world connectivity concept to the test in February when I will be aboard a boat in the Antarctic for a few weeks. A satellite tracker I wanted to buy was not guaranteed to work that far south, so I guess I’ll be following in the proverbial footsteps of Scott and Shackleton in possibly not having Internet access at the South Pole.

But I digress. I have been told that this column is supposed to consist of my predictions for 2010, so here goes:

Personal, in-the-home, 3D (stereo) displays will continue to be a source of great interest to technology pundits and will continue to lack any real penetration into the home in 2010. Why? Because common folks are just now getting themselves into 1080p flat panels (and 2D) and 3D (stereo) content will continue to be a slow dribble. 2009 hasn’t really even made it as the year of high definition yet, although cheap Blu-ray players this Christmas are helping. I predict 3D (stereo) home displays will remain a novelty until at least 2012, when the Mayans allegedly predict the world will end, in which case it just won’t matter.

Everyone will continue to be all atwitter about spending face time in their on-line social spaces, linked into everyone else, and countless hours of productivity will continue to be wasted in business and personal lives. The big development in this arena in 2010 will be the slow but increasing proliferation of information filtering technology to feed people only the information they think they want from all the various social networks and news sites out there. Right now the filtering technology, for the most part, has to be manually set-up (e.g. Google Alerts), but there’s a huge future for intelligent agents, which can use AI methods to learn more about likes and dislikes. A hint of this already exists in application sites like Pandora, where intelligent heuristics use your likes and dislikes to tailor music stations to your desires. And Facebook has a “like” indicator you can apply to senseless drivel you may enjoy, and there’s a large outcry asking for a “dislike” option too. Once that becomes implemented, can preference-based intelligent filtering be far behind?

The English language will continue to devolve on-line. I used to think it was just a transitory phase for teens, but when I recently received an e-mail from a founding partner of a mid-size law firm in New York written in “shortlish” (shorthand English), I knew the English language as we knew it was doomed. And apparently giving folks keyboards— physical or virtual—doesn’t prevent them from being too lazy to spell out words and use proper punctuation. No surprise there, I suppose.

Physical media sales will continue to drop. Microsoft has it right. There is no need to put to put a Blu-ray disc drive in the Xbox 360. Just download what you need—or stream it if your connection permits, and even Sony is heading that way. For myself, I know that compared to prior years, where I would purchase dozens of new DVDs and high definition movie discs, in 2009 I purchased a mere fraction of the discs of prior years. Instead, I have made sizable donations to Apple’s iTunes and Amazon’s Digital Downloads in exchange for TV shows and movies in both standard and high definition because of the convenience and portability of downloaded content (I can’t stream well enough where I live to make that viable). And more people I speak with say they are doing the same. And with companies like Redbox making physical media rentals as cheap as a dollar, it makes even less sense for someone to shell out big bucks to own a physical copy of a movie (other than companies like Redbox, for example).

Content will still remain King. Witness the big three game console makers, all of whom continue to transition their now ancient (in Moore-years) hardware platforms to finally becoming centerpieces in the average living room, all thanks to ever more pervasive content aggregation ranging from games and movies to YouTube, music, social media feeds. I will add that I am also a big fan of the Apple TV and SlingCatcher, both of which thrive (and depend) on content. And I’m not sure what I would do without the immediacy of content available on my Kindle DX. But of course, with more content bring produced by more people, there’s also more crap, er, noise out there too, which gets back to the whole intelligent filtering technology prediction.

Let me close with an observation on mankind’s self-delusion. The climate talks in Copenhagen ended recently, with little in the way of what anyone considers success. But the reality is that in order to solve a problem you need to understand both its genesis and ramifications. Without such knowledge, and consensus that such knowledge is accurate, all you can do is guess at options, and hope something you implement works, assuming you can get it implemented.

However, worse yet is when people who are not nearly as smart as the scientists studying the issue try to condense things into sound bites and chunks which are perceived to be more manageable. Which is why politicians, among others, are issuing a loud cry for reduced carbon emissions. All the while ignoring the fact that the average, ordinary human being is an excellent carbon emitter, whether in life—breathing, belching, and breaking wind—or in death (by, for example, decomposing). Let’s hope politicians and the governments they implement don’t start taxing us for exhaling, burping, or farting as part of the whole cap and trade approach.

And while everyone continues to bicker about proper ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the world’s oceans creep ever higher, slowly displacing ever-greater numbers of people. Perhaps more attention should be paid to those who are losing their homes, or even their nations, to rising waters and help them adapt to the new reality of less land and more water? That’s probably something that won’t be happening in 2010, I bet.


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